He played in nightclubs in New York City in the late 1950s. By 1962, Bell decided to devote his energies to working as a studio musician both in New York and Los Angeles, developing a "watery" guitar sound popular in instrumental recordings in the 1960s. Although he only recorded occasionally under his own name, Bell left an indelible mark on hundreds of hit pop recordings. He also invented a number of electric guitar models, including the first electric 12-string guitar, and the electric sitar, using it on such hits as "Green Tambourine" by the Lemon Pipers, and "Band of Gold" by Freda Payne.
According to Joel Whitburn's Top R&B Singles 1942-1995, Bell was responsible for the 1959 instrumental, "The Clouds", credited to The Spacemen, written by Julius Dixson and released on Dixson's Alton record label. This reached # 1 on the Billboard R&B charts, becoming the first # 1 song on any chart released by an African American owned independent label. However, Bell's involvement in this record is uncertain and other sources give the main performance credit to pianist Sammy Benskin.